A trio of candidates in the May 5 Killeen council and mayoral elections railed against extending more benefits to Killeen City Manager Ron Olson at the City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday.
Killeen at-large council candidates Mellisa Brown and Leo Gukeisen and mayoral candidate Arturo Cortez said an addendum to Olson’s contract giving him an additional $4,000 a year in deferred compensation and two extra weeks of vacation was too steep a price for the city’s head administrator.
Olson receives $225,000 in annual salary, with $18,000 in deferred compensation. The addendum will give Olson six weeks of vacation a year.
“We do not have to do this,” Cortez said. “This is being done without the citizens of Killeen knowing what is going on.”
Council members met in closed session March 20 to evaluate Olson’s first year on the job and settle on his new benefits package. As part of Olson’s contract terms, all annual reviews are performed in closed session.
Similar closed reviews are performed for other council-appointed positions such as the city auditor and municipal judge.
Following that meeting, the council issued a unanimous “excellent” review of Olson’s performance.
Olson, 68, was hired in February 2017 with 38 years of city management experience. He previously served as city manager of Corpus Christi. He also held executive posts in Middletown, Ohio; Belding, Mich.; West Jordan, Utah; and served as deputy city manager of Arlington.
Cortez, who took the podium after Gukeisen, was asked to leave the council chambers by a Killeen police officer after loudly interrupting Mayor Pro Tem Jim Kilpatrick, who argued Olson’s benefits increase was in line with his experience and performance.”
“He is due compensation for his performance,” Kilpatrick said. “I take it as offensive when one or two people tell us what we should not be doing when we put our trust in the person who is operating this city.”
The council voted 4-2 to approve Olson’s contract addendum, with Councilmen Gregory Johnson and Steve Harris voting against. Councilwoman Shirley Fleming was not in attendance.
Kilpatrick and council members Jonathan Okray, Juan Rivera and Debbie Nash-King voted in approval.
“I do think this city manager has done a great job,” Johnson said before the vote. “However, I don’t think any city employee should make over $200,000.”
Also on Tuesday, the council accepted a “clean” and unmodified annual audit report from the Houston-based Belt Harris Pechacek accounting firm.
Belt Harris Pechacek, hired by the city Aug. 8, was paid $127,450 for the fiscal year 2017 audit with another guaranteed year on its contract.
Robert Harris, a partner with the firm, applauded the city administration’s cooperation and financial preparation March 20 and said the results showed strong controls.
“For a city this size, this is probably the lowest amount of alterations we’ve had to make to any audit all year,” he said.
Although the city has received a slate of “clean” external audits for years, the federally mandated annual reviews are limited in scope and insight.
Because an annual audit is not forensic in nature and only examines the city’s financial framework in a given fiscal year, routine audits presented the city’s finances as stable and did not address signs of distress in recent years.
By federal law, cities’ comprehensive annual financial reports produced each fiscal year must be audited by an outside accounting firm for compliance with Governmental Accounting Standards Board requirements. The central aspect of the review is “material weakness,” or a given municipality’s lack of adherence to internal and GASB standards.